Finding Ideal, Perhaps Unfair Fits For K.J. Hamler's Rare Speed

Photo: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

So, how fast is Penn State wide receiver K.J. Hamler?

His tape tells you the conversation starts at pretty damn fast as was evident by the play against Ohio State last season where he cooked projected top-50 pick Shaun Wade for a 93-yard slant-and-score.

But without him running at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, that speed was never tangible or functionally digestible. Hamler said he clocked a 4.27-second 40-yard dash in training but tweaked his hamstring before the trip to Indianapolis and wasn't going to run. With the pre-draft process in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how fast Hamler is in a class with Henry Ruggs III and Jalen Reagor remains up for debate.

Hamler has always been fast. During his first year at Penn State, strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt said Hamler ran a 40-yard time that would have made him the fifth-fastest at the 2018 combine.

“K.J., as we all know, just by his film, shows his speed," Galt recently told 247sports' Mark Brennan. "He came in, he ran a 4.39 as a true freshman coming off of ACL surgery coming out of IMG [Academy]. We got it to a 4.27. So I've told the pro scouts for months that I would expect him to run a 4.30 to a high 4.2 at worst. I think they feel strongly about that from a 40-yard dash standpoint. And then KJ has other good measurables, whether it's the vertical, we've gone through all that [with scouts]. It was a shame that he couldn't have participated more in a combine.”

Speed, however, doesn't just come in one form or one gear. There's long speed, quick speed and an explosive element that exists in both. Hamler has proved he doesn’t just have straight-line speed but he can dominate a shuttle drill too.

“K.J.’s pro shuttle, he has a high 4.2 his first two times," Galt said." It was harder for him to kind of plant and bend and twist with his surgically repaired knee. And then the last two times he's gone he ran a 4.15 and then a 4.11 [last] summer.”

Hamler continued to impress with his speed outside the walls of Penn State when he began training for the combine and draft. Anthony Hobgood, a performance manager at EXOS in Gulf Breeze, Florida, believes Hamler's speed could have a similar impact to that of DeSean Jackson.

"K.J. has that kind of speed," Hobgood told NFL Network' Mike Garafolo. "The difference is K.J. is a little stronger than [Jackson], especially in his upper body. DeSean struggled to bench press 225 [pounds] one time; K.J. did it 15 times. So, not only does K.J. have that elite-level speed, he also has tremendous upper-body strength to go along with that."

Now to the important question(s): What is Hamler's draft range without the combine performance? And what teams could get the most out of him?

Day 1

New Orleans Saints

Pairing Hamler and quarterback Drew Brees in an offense that already has receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, running back Alvin Kamara and that offensive line should truly be illegal.

The faster and quicker the player, the more accurate the quarterback needs to be. We've seen this time and time again with fast receivers who have the athletic ability to stretch the field, but the quarterback delivering them the ball just can't get the chemistry or timing down.

Brees, as one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history, could be a passer who can truly get the most out of Hamler's speed.

The New Orleans Saints have the 24th pick. That's a little rich for Hamler, who does struggle with drops and concentration catches at times, but for what he can in that offense, it's hard to not think he would be worth it.

Day 2

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another formidable pairing is waiting in Tampa Bay: quarterback Tom Brady and receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. I can say with the highest confidence that there is not a secondary that can handle the addition of Hamler. 

The Buccaneers’ points per game with a group like that would be at or above 30 for the entire season, especially with the way head coach Bruce Arians likes to attack using longer dropbacks and more vertical routes.

Tampa Bay has pick No. 45 near the top of the second round. If the Buccaneers aren't going running back there, and Hamler is on the board, what a return on investment that could be.

New York Jets

The New York Jets need a big-time playmaker in their receiver room after losing Robby Anderson in free agency — mainly one who wins with the element of speed.

They signed Breshad Perriman to go along with Quincy Enunwa and Jamison Crowder, but Perriman is coming off his best year and there is some area for concern that he won't repeat it with his new team. Hamler would give the Jets a speed element in the slot that could really open things up for quarterback Sam Darnold.

New York currently has the 48th selection in the second round; projections have the Jets landing a receiver there. Perhaps it could be Hamler.

Green Bay Packers

Similar to the Brees pairing, giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers a player like Hamler in the slot to complement Davante Adams on the outside would be a match made in heaven. Matt LaFleur comes from Kyle Shanahan’s offensive coaching tree; Hamler could be used in similar ways to that of San Francisco 49ers’ Deebo Samuel.

The Packers pick later in the second round at No. 62. If they were to go linebacker, defensive line or cornerback with their first-round pick at No. 30, Hamler falling in their lap at the end of the second round would be a gift.

Day 3

Literally everyone

Fit, scheme, location, team, quarterback situation, receiver room: I don't care.

If Hamler makes it to Day 3, restart the whole draft. His speed and potential would be a worthwhile investment for any team selecting on the final day of draft weekend.